Belmont Gallery of Art, Belmont, Massachusetts
By Diane Franklin, artist, teacher, and author of Dyeing Alchemy
If you decide to visit A Woman’s Place, at the Belmont Gallery of Art through March 10th, be prepared to experience a range of emotions: anger, surprise, bemusement, and, perhaps, a #metoo moment. Also, plan to spend considerable time at the exhibit since each piece in the show is accompanied by an artist statement that amplifies its visual element and adds context to the work. This is a show that must be savored slowly, not hurried through.
Curated by artist Kimberly Becker, originally as a requirement for her master’s thesis, the exhibit quickly morphed into something bigger with the support of Rebecca Richards, the gallery’s administrator. Richards commented: “I was enthusiastic about Kimberly’s idea from the start. As a feminist and as someone who participated in the 2017 Women’s March, I had been wanting to acknowledge the anniversary of that historic event by having a show about women/women’s lives and women’s art. When Kimberly approached me about her House Dress Project, I said yes immediately and later tapped her to curate a full gallery exhibit of feminist-inspired art–the end result being A Woman’s Place. The resulting exhibit is quite powerful and truly speaks to being female in 21st century…”
The exhibit consists of two parts. One gallery is devoted to the House Dress Project, consisting of 16 ethereal, white silk “house” dresses. Each dress has a painted picture of a house on the front and a story embroidered on the back. The stories are compelling tales of women who have been marginalized, humiliated, disrespected or otherwise treated badly because of their gender. A few stories are redemptive, but most repeat the familiar pattern that women know so well. The second gallery features the work of 14 women artists working in a variety of media, including textiles, mixed media, painting, sculpture, and drawing.
In choosing the participants for the exhibition, Becker sought artists whose work related to current issues but in a nuanced way. She hoped to find pieces that would encourage dialogue and conversation about difficult issues rather than merely provoke. Fortuitously, Becker was aided by the emergence of the #metoo movement, which brought previously unacceptable topics out in the open and allowed a gallery in a public space, Belmont Town Hall, to show work that might not have considered acceptable at an earlier date.
The work of the 14 participating artists is quite wide ranging in terms of both content and artistic media. One piece by Michèle Fandel Bonner is particularly striking. Family Secrets is a two-sided piece, consisting of samples of old, rather banal tapestries and embroideries stitched together into a “pretty” drape. The back of the piece, however, tells a different story. On that side, there are tales of mayhem and murder and other kinds of family dysfunction usually hidden from view.
In a completely different vein, Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch has created sculptures of women’s undergarments out of found materials such as radiator covers and other metals. Her artist statement notes that “the cultural norm is [that] a woman’s body is more important and has more currency than her brain. Women have moved from the confines of a corset to the norm of Victoria’s Secret.” Her metal underwear humorously depicts this new norm.
Another artist, Elena Brunner, has made a series of 7-foot drawings of large, imposing men, such as police officers and fire fighters. These drawings, through their sheer size and bold depictions, evoke the feelings of fear and powerlessness that women often feel when confronted by such men. They also graphically depict the ways society institutionalizes power in men and gives them the means by which to enforce this power.
In addition to featuring artwork, the exhibition also includes a series of Sunday salons, occurring every other weekend through the end of February. The intent of these events is to encourage further conversations about the artwork and the themes of the show.
For more details about the exhibition, including its opening hours and the topics of the Sunday salons, visit the Belmont Gallery site.